19.8.2019 marked the 100th anniversary of Afghanistan’s Independence Day. The Afghan government in Kabul, in particular, which, without US support, would probably collapse within a week, is promoting this anniversary very widely. But, apart from all the dependencies, this day is a great farce, as in many other postcolonial states in the region.
The British Empire has tried three times to bring Afghanistan under its control. This should have been a lesson for all those who invaded the country afterwards, that is, Russians and Americans. But anyone who thinks that the British invaders at that time simply went over the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan and were pushed back there by a homogeneous mass of Afghan rebels is wrong. Instead, during the so-called Anglo-Afghan wars of the 19th and 20th centuries, a situation that is not dissimilar to today’s was also found. There were central governments in Kabul, mostly led by brutal men who had disempowered their brother, uncle or cousin and were supported by foreign actors, while the rural areas were controlled by insurgents, who are now considered to be freedom fighters. Geopolitical conditions were also central at that time. For example, the so-called Great Game between Great Britain and Russia was played in the region at the expense of the Afghan people.
Those Afghans who fought the British, like the Taliban today, or the rebels who fought the Red Army and its Afghan allies in the 1980s, saw themselves as mujahideen, that is, warriors fighting for God and the fatherland. Even the racist, mass murderer and great colonialist Winston Churchill said at the time after a visit to Afghanistan that the Crown was unlikely to stand a chance on this front – because of the notorious bearded fighters.
Nevertheless, there is no denying that if those Afghan freedom fighters were to remain in this day and age, they would probably be hunted by drones and CIA special forces, or would be simmering in the torture hall of Guantanamo. All these things remain linked to Afghanistan, while independence, which today is only a supposed one and has nothing to do with the reality of the last forty years, is being celebrated.
Of course, the Afghan Government, which celebrates and promotes this year’s anniversary of Afghan independence, does not want to know about all this. Instead, an extremely annoying propaganda show has been running for a few days now, which was only disturbed by massacres. Last Saturday, more than 60 people, all guests of a wedding party, were killed by a US, sorry by an IS attack in the capital. The Kabul political elite showed superficial interest, but they didn’t really care about what was happening. As usual, it hit poor, defenseless civilians. The question of how such attacks can happen in supposedly secure Kabul was not asked at all. The grand independence day parade has now been postponed. Even beforehand, many Afghans wondered why this anniversary should be celebrated in the first place, while war prevails and large parts of the country are controlled not by the government, but by the Taliban.
From Amanullah Khan to Ashraf Ghani
Both the elections and the centenary are endlessly exploited by Ghani and his technocratic government to stage themselves as a kind of state builder. The word may sound funny, especially in German, but it is an important part of Ghani’s campaign and can be read on almost every election poster. In the context of the elections, the Kabul government proudly announced a few weeks ago that, for the first time in the country’s history, much of the electoral costs will be borne by the treasury. Specifically, this is about 90 out of a total of 149 million dollars, which would certainly be better off elsewhere in one of the poorest countries in the world. This is particularly the case when you consider the outcome of the last elections in 2014. At the time, then-US Secretary of State John Kerry had to travel several times to choose a winner. Correctly read. The Afghan head of state was elected not by the people, but by the US government. Ghani was then accused of electoral fraud. This is an accusation that is still in the room today and which no one seems to care about any more. And yes, of course, it borders on irony that the man John Kerry pushed into office now makes independence very important.
But what exactly is this anniversary about? On 19.8.1919 the Third Anglo-Afghan War came to an end and the modern Afghan state was formed. The main central in this context was the Afghan King Amanullah Khan, who is also known in this country for his once good relationship with Germany. For President Ashraf Ghani, King Amanullah is of particular importance. He compares himself to this man and wants to complete his work. Amanullah was a secular ruler. His close circle of friends included Kemal Atatürk and Reza Pahlavi. He took Turkey and Iran as an example and wanted to transform Afghanistan in a similar way.
Amanullah found himself in a situation where the British – for the time being and superficially – were fed up with Afghanistan. To distract from internal problems – to this day it is not clear what role Amanullah played in the deaths of his political opponents, including his own father – the king invaded British India in May 1919. The British reacted, but due to the consequences of the First World War, both war-weary and financially unresilient were not resilient. After a few retaliatory strikes that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Afghans, they had Amanullah sign a treaty defining the borders of the Afghan state. Added to this was the country’s neutral status and the end of the British protectorate in Kabul, which was once brought about by Amanullah Khan’s predecessors.
The national borders were, of course, not drawn by the Afghans, but by the British. Probably the most important border already existed. The so-called Durand Line, which now separates Afghanistan from Pakistan, was approved in 1893 by Emir Abdur Rahman Khan, Amanullah’s grandfather, after the British brought him to power in Kabul. As is known from other regions of the world, this step was extremely problematic. Many Pashtun tribes suddenly found themselves no longer in Afghanistan, but in British India. The consequences were alienation and discord with Kabul.
To this day, the Durand line is causing problems. The Afghan-Pakistani border area is considered a retreat for extremists, is haunted by the US War on Terror and is regularly attacked by the Pakistani army. In addition, there are local Pashtun insurgents, most recently the civil society PTM movement, which peacefully stands up for their rights and denounces Islamabad’s war crimes. For the British, however, the reconfirmation of the border by Amanullah Khan in 1919 was arguably the greatest success in the region.
There is no war on terror, there is only terror … (Manzoor Pashteen)
And this is precisely the general problem with many post-colonial states celebrating their independence every year. They find themselves within borders drawn by colonialists, and they run after an ideal created by the former enemy and exploiter, namely the idea of the nation-state, which still does not really work in many of the states concerned. This is another example of heterogeneous Afghanistan. The good King Amanullah did not stay in Kabul for long. Through his reforms, which many Afghans perceived as too Western, he launched an insurgency that was supported not only by conservatives, but also by poor strata. The monarchy in Kabul overstated it not only with its crude rules (for example, cylinders instead of turbans), but also with the exploitation of the ordinary people, from whom it became increasingly alienated. In the end, Habibullah Kalakani, known in Afghan history as the “son of a water carrier,” rose and overthrew the king. The ethnic Tajik Kalakani was extremely poor, known as a thief and had little in common with the Pashtun elites in Kabul. Afghan nationalists still regard him as a British agent, while his supporters celebrate him as a kind of Robin Hood. Even before Kalakani took power in Kabul, Amanullah went into exile in 1929. Thanks to the millions he took with him, he lived for years in a villa in Rome. In 1960, the king died in Zurich.
Status quo could have nothing less to do with independence
At present, both the Afghan government and its entire security apparatus are dependent on foreign money. It is no secret that those politicians who are now celebrating Independence Day with a lot of tamtam will receive their salary in US dollars, often have a second Western citizenship and are likely to leave everything standing and lying down and are in the next if their position was threatened. Added to this is the presence of NATO terrorists who can literally do what they want in the country. US war crimes in Afghanistan must not be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear last March. The Trump administration has even imposed sanctions on The Hague and a travel ban on Court employees.
At the same time, the US military has been dropping as many bombs as it has in a long time since Trump came to power. The Afghan Government has nothing to oppose. Instead, the opposite is often the case. U.S. war crimes in remote parts of the country are supported, and in many cases the Afghan army or local CIA militias are also involved. The new statement of government merely states that “terrorists” have been killed again – a circumstance that is being persecuted by an increasing number of international observers with an incredulous shake of the head.
As long as that new talk prevails, corrupt elites are in charge, war criminals enjoy all impunity, and foreign powers abuse the country as usual as a chessboard, Afghanistan is free from any independent action and any Sovereignty, not just miles, but light years away – and that may not change in the next hundred years, as history has shown.